Quit overpaying for Cable (The hooking up your components kind of cable)

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The easiest way for budget creep to catch you off guard while putting Bubba’s home theater together is to pay too much for cable. Not the cable-TV-channel cable, (that’s a butt kicker, too) but all the hook-up wire that connects your audio/video components, speakers, and distribution systems. If you fall for popular marketing chatter, you might end up paying a surprising premium for wire as thick as sewer pipe.

On the one hand, a lot of folks use cheap, junky, dollar store cables to connect their system. In certain situations, poorly made wires can result in somewhat noticeable degradation in performance, but most often just result in early failure through wear. And who needs to spend hours tracking down which connector snapped loose, or which cable behind what wall frayed and failed. On the other hand, the enormous investment required to purchase speaker wire the size of jumper cables is just silly. Sure, if you pass a speaker signal through a cable made from perfectly shielded gold cable the thickness of a baseball bat, it will sound great. But you don’t need it. Don’t believe me? One question:

How many recording studios, radio stations, and production houses are wired with these expensive, brand cables?  If there are any, I’ll bet they are sponsored facilities. Having worked in professional facilities like that, most wiring is done to spec, custom built on the spot. Quality connectors are professionally soldered or fastened to the correct gauge cable reeled off of a spool.

Here’s a recent story we saw on a pair of 12 foot speaker cables that sell for $7,250. The author correctly challenges anyone to actually try and “hear” the difference between those cables and a pair of (also ridiculously overpriced) Monster brand cables. There’s even a million dollar reward if anyone can actually hear that difference.

Analog cables are going to be a little more susceptible to signal deterioration. Weak ground shielding, badly attached or poorly made connectors, and even inconsistencies in cable thickness or insulation properties. Really bad cabling can show itself in slight color separations or blurs, as can a single component signal driven down different lengths of cable.  Audio frequencies can be slightly affected with poor speaker or hook-up cables. Bad shielding can result in electric hums or RF interference. These problems are usually seen in the really cheesy “giveaway” cables that come boxed with some of your components. Most moderately priced cables are made with decent materials; they may show slight imperfections on test scopes, but will generally be undetectable to all but the most critically trained eye and ear. A dirty little secret? Even the best analog cables are technically flawed for consumer gear. Video cables are usually rated at 75 ohms. But consumer gear usually is connected via the old home stereo style RCA connectors, which are rated at 50 ohms. This results in an impedance mismatch that, under scrutiny, creates “reflections” that interfere or even cancel signal within the cable itself. Again, usually not bad enough to see except for the most discerning viewer. But more to the point, why are you willing to pay for Cadillac cables that have a Ford Pinto design flaw?

Digital cables, like HDMI and DV cables? Well, they work or they don’t. Think of it this way: analog cables carry various voltages and frequencies that need to be accurately transmitted and received, under a variety of conditions and distances. If a video signal is made up of three different signals, (component), then the cables must stay perfectly matched.  If one signal deteriorates slightly from the others, ringing in the signal might result in shadows or slight color distortions. But digital, it’s just ones and zeroes being transmitted. They get there, or they don’t. Usually a steady voltage carries a constant stream of data. If you plug it in and see a picture and hear your audio, then the cable works, whether it was five dollars or five hundred. The biggest difference in HDMI cables seems to be in the connector workmanship. But HDMI cables are notorious for having a weak, non-locked connector. (Be sure and keep pressure off of the cable or provide some strain relief.) For the most part, HDMI are built to minimum, uniform specifications. The kid at the electronics counter pushing the coolest, thickest, “high performance” HDMI cables is on commission, rest assured.

If you want to brag about owning “luxury” cables, and perhaps drape them around your gear with the price tag to prove just how luxurious they are, go right ahead. Your guests will not notice much of a difference from well made, mid-priced hook-ups. Heck, learn to make some (analog) cables yourself.  Otherwise, you might be in for a Monster of a rip-off.

 

 

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